Many define the museum an educational tool, a historical preserve that collects and displays artwork from our collective past. On the whole, people everywhere construct architecture to symbolize and preserve their cultural beliefs. We like to gather up bits of the world so that we may reflect on what they mean and where we stand in relation to them.
But a visit to a museum does not mean just staring at old stuff. There is another feeling that accompanies the museum visit, one could say an expectancy, a hope and a trust that once one enters the building, they will experience something great. An epiphany, some sort of cultural nourishment.
In "Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums," renowned art historian Carol Duncan posits the idea that a visit to a museum is a liminal experience. Anthropologist Victor Turner explains liminal as "a mode of consciousness outside of or betwixt-and-between the normal, day-to-day cultural and social states and processes of getting and spending."
Here again is the idea that when you visit a museum you can stop time and escape. You are expected to consider your essence and how it relates to the things around you. It's a time to engage in contemplative thought, the antithesis of the distracted lifestyle most of us live.
A recent article on NPR.org questions whether people involve themselves less in deep thought on one subject and more in a myriad of activities because of increased internet use. It takes a huge feat of will to avoid distraction on the internet and this is where most of us spend both our work and play time.
Read the NPR article and learn about "Your Brain Online."
I can honestly say that I view my museum visits as liminal experiences, as acts that bring me closer to an understanding of my own essence. I felt this way when I attended my first Whitney Biennial. I felt it in the Centre Pompidou in Paris. I felt it the recreation of Henry Darger's room at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. But is this the purpose of a museum? What other functions does it provide for you?